When Your Childhood Insecurity is Actually Body Dysmorphia

When Your Childhood Insecurity is Actually Body Dysmorphia

When do vanity and insecurity go too far?
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The sides of my face didn’t match. From the front, I appeared normal enough, and my left profile was passable, but the right belonged to someone else. Nostril flaring out too much, bridge of my nose rising forward like a jagged stone mountain, massive cheek swirled with pink blotches.

Why did this patchwork rag doll have to be my own reflection? Was it the result of a birth defect, an accident while I was in utero?

I couldn’t blame my parents for my seemingly deformed physical attributes. I was adopted as an infant and had never seen a single soul who looked like me.

In elementary school, I’d agonize over my hair, wondering why it didn’t flow full and thick like other girls.’ It just fell limp, like straw. Straw hair to go with the mismatched, ragdoll face.

Whenever I wasn’t obsessing over my hair, I’d zero in on another feature, some new hamartia of my outward appearance I hadn’t noticed before. I remember thinking, what will be next? After I get over my nose/skin/hair, what’s the next obsession to monopolize my thoughts, spin circles around me like a gnat?

I use to hide behind a curtain of my hair so people couldn’t see the blotchy rosacea on my right cheek. I remember being nominated “the 3rd ugliest girl in class.” I wanted to claw out of my own skin.

How do you know what you look like? How does anyone know what they look like? Every time I’d look in the mirror, I’d appear as someone different. Every time someone took my picture, my chest filled with dread. I was a grotesque creature. A shape-shifting deformity. I knew it stemmed from self-absorption, but I couldn’t stop. Every reflective surface held a mystery.

By middle school, my fixations turned to my body. I remember doodling myself in my 6th-grade chorus binder—giant head, hair like a fistful of yarn, noodle arms, towering too tall for my age. At the time, I perceived myself as far too thin. Other girls could be stick-skinny and still look good, but not me. It wasn’t even so much my weight, as it was my shape. Abnormal.

It hurt all the worse feeling like I was alone in this. Other girls worried about being too fat, other girls got anorexic. “Real women have curves,” they said, but what about the rest of us? I was the only one too awkward and too thin, in my mind. An outcast, a walking deformity.

By high school, I’d gained weight and my self-perception of thinness vanished. It was the second semester of freshman year, and I sat on the passenger side of my mom’s car as she drove me home from school.

I noticed my face in the side mirror. Eyes dark and too serious. Pouting unintentionally. My head leaned back lazily against the seat and I was struck by the size of my face, my double chin spilling out from under it.

How'd I not noticed this before? I already knew I wasn’t skinny anymore, but god, how’d I missed that thick roll framing my chin and jawline?

It was yet another moment of insecurity welling up to drown out everything else. Then a succession of moments like that. And then the need to do away with yourself, to check off the days with steady discipline, punishing your body for its own existence.

I’d joke years later that my double chin was half the reason I’d ever been anorexic. I used to subtly reach up and trace beneath my chin with my fingers. At first, it served as motivation, a reminder: you do not need to eat. You’ve gone too far already and you have to correct it.

Then it was a checkpoint, a mile-marker: one day it was gone, all I’d felt was jawbone and skin, the curve of my chin down to my neck. It became yet another miniscule obsession, one of many places on my body I needed to check and re-check, to run my hands along, to feel the bone.

After four years of yo-yo dieting, at age nineteen my body dysmorphia changed forms again, sneaky as a chameleon. Its words were different, but the deeper message the same.

It was January of 2013, and I’d forgotten what it felt like to be warm. My weight dipped ever lower. I’d stopped wearing bras because I couldn’t stand the way it puckered out the little bit of flesh when the band clasped around my torso. In the back of mind, I recognized the irony: I was too skinny to even have boobs anymore. I didn’t need a bra, yet still felt too fat to wear one.

I couldn’t wear certain fabrics because of their texture, how it’d feel against my ribs, or against any bit of flesh, I felt the need to shed immediately. I couldn’t stand it when anyone touched my back or my sides. Only I could, and I did so constantly. Discreetly running my hands up and down my ribs, making certain I could feel their entire cage rippling under my skin.

This was when the body dysmorphia surfaced the clearest to me. I became a pawn in my game of control. Every move I made revolved around this objective. Preventing myself from bingeing, straining to hold up the peace in my family, keeping them in the dark, even as my physical heart began to suffer from the effects of my starvation. And then the game owned me.

I landed in the hospital, where I gained back most of the weight. In the days leading up to my admittance; however, I had some revelations. I started to let myself smile again. I painted my lips with color. The light shifted in the mirror.

Words popped out of the void and filled my head, repeating again and again. Control. Balance. Healing. I didn’t know what they meant at first, but they became a mantra. These were the things I could gain when I realized my own worth. They were like planets in my orbit. But they’d always been lopsided, out-of-sync, or downright lost in the darkness.

I began to explore the events in my life that had impacted me so deeply, so irrevocably. I even considered my adoption and its effect on my self-perception and some of my past behavioral patterns.

It’s hard to describe how things changed, how I finally saw myself as a person and not a walking deformity. My insecurity still exists, but it’s no longer all-consuming, literally—it doesn’t eat away at my muscles and wear down my heart, anymore.

I continue to live with shifting mirrors, photographs that haunt me—shadows, shapes, and colors sprawling into my semblance. The right side of my face still looks like a stranger sometimes, like a mismatched puzzle piece. But these days, more often than not, I can see that it really is me. And that it’s okay.

Cover Image Credit: Bekah Russom // Unsplash

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4 reasons how Drake's New Album May Help Us Fight Mental Illness

Increasing Evidence Points to Music as a Potential Solution to the Mental Health Problem.

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Okay, You caught me!

I am NOT just talking about everybody's favorite actor-turned-rapper— or second, if you've seen Childish Gambino's "This is America" music video. Unfortunately, current research hasn't explored specific genres and artists. However, studies HAVE provided significant evidence in possibilities for music to treat mental health disorders. Now, before you say something that your parents would not be proud of, ask yourself if you can really blame me for wanting to get your attention. This is an urgent matter concerning each one of us. If we all face the truth, we could very well reach one step closer to solving one of society's biggest problems: Mental Health.

The Problem:

As our nation continues to bleed from tragedies like the horrific shooting that shattered the lives of 70 families whose loved ones just wanted to watch the "Dark Knight Rises" during its first hours of release, as well as the traumatic loss of seventeen misfortunate innocents to the complications of mental health disorders in the dear city of Parkland— a city mere hours from our very own community— it's impossible to deny the existence of mental illness. As many of us can already vouch, mental illness is much more common than what most would think: over 19 million adults in America suffer from a mental health disorder. Picture that: a population slightly less than that of Florida is plagued by hopelessness, isolation, and utter despair.

Disease in the form of depression holds millions of people prisoner, as anxieties instill crippling desperation and too many struggles with finding peace. This can be you. It could be your brother, your sister, your mother, your father, your cousin, your aunt, your uncle, your friend, your roommate, your fraternity brother, your sorority sister, your lab partner, or just your classmate that sits in the corner of the lecture hall with a head buried into a notebook that camouflages all emotion.

I hope we— the UCF community— understand the gravity of the problem, but it's clear that some still see mental illness as a disease that affects only a handful of "misfits" who "terrorize" our streets, while the numbers reveal more to the issue. In fact, 1 in 5 Americans suffers from a mental health disorder. The problem is so serious that suicide has risen to become the second-leading cause of death among 20 to 24-year-olds. While many continue to ask for more antidepressants and even the occasional "proper spanking," recent studies indicate increases in occurrence, such as one in depression from 5.9% in 2012 to 8.2% in 2015. So, clearly, none of that is working.

The Evidence:

If we really want to create a world where our children are free from the chains of mental illness, we need to think outside the box. Doctors and scientists won't really talk about this since it's still a growing field of research, but music has strong potential. We don't have any options at the moment, which means we need to change our mindset about music and to continue to explore its medicinal benefits. If you're still skeptical because of the title, then please consider these 4 pieces of solid evidence backed by scientific research:

1. Music has been proven to improve disorders like Parkinson's Disease.

Researchers sponsored by the National Institute of Health— the country's largest research agency— saw an improvement in the daily function of patients with Parkinson's Disease. This makes patients shake uncontrollably, which often prevents them from complete functionality. The disease is caused by a shortage of dopamine— a chemical your neurons, or brain cells, release; since music treats this shortage, there's an obvious ability to increase dopamine levels. As numerous studies connect dopamine shortages to mental illnesses like depression, addiction, and ADHD, someone could possibly use music's proven ability to increase dopamine levels to treat said problems.

2. Listening to the music has the potential to activate your brain's "reward center."

In 2013, Valorie Salimpoor and fellow researchers conducted a study that connected subjects' pleasure towards music to a specific part of the brain. This key structure, the nucleus accumbens, is the body's "reward center," which means all of you have experienced its magical powers. In fact, any time the brain detects a rewarding sensation— drinking ice-cold water after a five-mile run in sunny, humid Florida, eating that Taco Bell chalupa after a long happy hour at Knight's Library, and even consuming recreational drugs— this structure releases more of that fantastic dopamine. So, with further research into specifics, doctors may soon be prescribing your daily dose of tunes for your own health.

3. Listening to Music may be more effective than prescription anti-anxiety medication.

In 2013, Mona Lisa Chanda and Daniel J. Levitin— two accomplished doctors in psychology— reviewed a study wherein patients waiting to undergo surgery were given either anti-anxiety medications or music to listen to. The study took into account cortisol levels, which are used daily by healthcare professionals to gauge patient levels. This "stress hormone" was actually found to be lower in patients who listened to classical music rather those who took the recommended dose of prescription drugs. Sit there and think about that for a second: these patients actually felt more relaxed with something as simple as MUSIC than with chemicals that are made specifically to force patients into relaxation before surgery. Why pop a Xanax when you can just listen to Beethoven?

4. Music may release the chemicals that help you naturally relax and feel love.

Further studies continue to justify music's place in the medical world as results demonstrate increases in substances such as prolactin— a hormone that produces a relaxing sensation— as well as oxytocin— the substance that promotes warmth and happiness during a hug between mother and child. So this study basically showed us that music has the potential to actually make you feel the way you did when Mom or Dad would embrace you with the warmest hug you've ever felt.

The Future:

The evidence I present you with today is ultimately just a collection of individual situations where specific people found specific results. There are a lot of variables when it comes to any research study; therefore, data is never truly certain. We should take these findings as strong suggestions to a possible solution, but we must remember the possibility of failure in our search.

The neurochemistry behind the music and its medicinal properties is just beginning to unfold before the scientific community. In fact, extremely qualified scientists from the National Institute of Health— the organization that basically runs any important medical study in the United States— continue to remind us of the subject's youth with the constant use of "potential" behind any and all of their findings. Therefore, it's our responsibility as a community to look into this— not just that of the scientists at the National Institute of Health.

We're all surrounded by music. It's at the bars. It's in our ears during all-night sessions at the UCF library. It's keeping us awake through East Colonial traffic at 7:00 AM while hordes of students focus on their cell phone screens instead of the paved roads ahead. It's in the shoes we wear, the actions we take, and the words we say. IF YOU'RE READING THIS: it's accessible to you. So, don't be shy, and try to play with your Spotify account, or even just on YouTube, and gauge the power of music. As more and more of us see the light, we can promote the movement and carry on as more research comes out to support us.

Drop the bars, drop those addictive pills that destroy your body slowly, and pick up your headphones and press PLAY.

Just relax, close your eyes, smile, and live.

Cover Image Credit:

@champagnepapi

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The Health Risks of Eating at the Ballpark This Summer

The staggering absence of nutritious options for regular patrons at Citizens Bank Park

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No Phillies fan would say that this past Friday's game was great--- the Milwaukee Brewers blew the Fightin' Phils out of the water at 12-4. I went to the game myself and my dad---a self-proclaimed "Philly Phanatic"--- was begging me to leave after the seventh inning stretch. Needless to say, it was a sorry sight, yet not hardly as appalling as the junk food forced on parishoners at the stadium.

Not only are fans barred from bringing food or drink into the stands, but they are bombarded with the enchanting smells of the fast food sold every five steps in the stadium complex. Usually, these facts wouldn't phase me; but since there is not a single, god-damned green vegetable available for purchase, it really grinds my gears.

Although I have never struggled with any weight problems myself, my father has for as long as I can remember. A light-hearted, hard-working family man, my dad has eaten what commercials and billboards had sold him as the quick, tasty, cheap meal for his time-constrained adult life---and it has left its mark.

He's obese.

His blood pressure is through the roof and he has sleep apnea leaving little respite from his already tiring life. To help, I've been making him the healthier meals his body needs so that time isn't a factor in his choice of food anymore. As of late, he had been sleeping more soundly and even appearing more chipper with his eating the little boxed chicken or fish salads I pack him. So, it goes without saying that I felt pretty helpless as I watched my father chomp on a loaded ball park hot dog and fries--- only to find him hours later awake and watching T.V. groggily in the middle of the night despite his having work that morning.

To prevent what I didn't know as inevitable at the time, I had searched every menu of each stand for a meal nutritious and filling for my father. To my dismay, I came back with nothing. No matter the restaurant, whether it be Chick-fil-a or Chickie's and Pete's, the menus displayed meal options barely enough to count on your right hand while the drink menus read like a short story. Perhaps, then-- I thought to myself--- the popcorn could be better. Unbuttered and lightly-salted popcorn can be a filling, whole-grain, and low-calorie snack but alas, what we purchased was hidden in a box with no nutrition label and tasted heavily of additives (I think I even tasted a bit of hidden sugar, but I can't be sure because the nutritional information is basically impossible to find).

While writing this article, I had scoured the Citizen Bank Park website for nutritional information on the choices offered to patrons. While the Advanced Suite Menu has a bountiful assortment of healthy options for whomever was to order catering in their suite, the regular-paying fans are given basically zilch in terms of nutritional information. Sure, the calories are listed beside the menu options (at least the food items are), but even if one gets a low calorie meal, it's still some form of fried-fiasco bound to leave them hungry and cause them to buy some other "low calorie option"; making them destined to consume the same if not more calories. Of course, especially disciplined patrons could simply not buy another food item, but I think we can all agree no one wants to be hungry on a night when they came out and spent money to have fun.

In a time where the obesity crisis is dealing some serious damage to the health of people from all walks of life and even fast food restaurants are striving to offer healthier options to whomever may stumble through their "golden arches," I think it's absolutely imperative that ball parks, specifically Citizens Bank Park, gets its act together and gives its regular-paying patrons filling and nutritionally beneficial food options; not just for my father's sake, but for other people just like him who are caught in this chaos that is the american diet.

Cover Image Credit:

Shannon Lynn

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